The 1999-2000 Jazz at the Bistro Performance Series kicks off this week with the McCoy Tyner Trio, and JAB executive director Gene Dobbs Bradford just can't wait to get the season under way. "It seems like I've been waiting forever for the season to start," says Bradford during a recent telephone conversation. "I've been doing a lot of work down at the Bistro, and the place can be a little depressing when it's empty. I want to see it full of people ready to enjoy some great music."
Bradford brings an infectious enthusiasm to everything he does, as those who encountered him during his tenure at the St. Louis Symphony as director of operations can testify. And he's definitely overflowing with enthusiasm about the lineup of talent for the new JAB season especially because it's the first one he's put together. When Bradford took over the JAB reins last spring after the death of Barbara Rose, the 1998-99 season had been booked for months. So this season's lineup provides an interesting look at Bradford's musical philosophy for Jazz at the Bistro.
It's definitely a wider-ranging, more eclectic approach than Bistro patrons have seen in past years. Sure, there are familiar names such as John Pizzarelli, Ray Brown, Tyner, Ahmad Jamal and Cyrus Chestnut on the schedule. But St. Louis jazz fans can also catch the Bistro debuts of sax greats Kenny Garrett and Joe Lovano, violinist Regina Carter and guitarist Mark Elf; hear Bobby Watson's new Horizon band; catch trumpeter Terence Blanchard leading a sextet; and hear an all-star trio of pianist James Williams, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Higgins.
"We really wanted to put together a diverse season," explains Bradford. "There are old favorites in the lineup, but the schedule also features plenty of fresh new faces at least, fresh to St. Louis. And I think that diversity is part of our approach of building a jazz club that will appeal to all elements of the St. Louis jazz community. And when people do come and enjoy the type of jazz they enjoy most, we're also hoping they'll come back and check out some of the musicians they might not know as well. So we're also hoping the diversity can expand the musical horizons of jazz fans as well."
There are some additional changes in the Bistro this season as well. Set times on Wednesdays and Thursdays are moving up a half-hour from last year's 9 and 10:45 p.m. start times to an 8:30 p.m. start for the opening set and a 10:15 p.m. kickoff for the second set. The 9 and 10:45 times will stay the same for Friday and Saturday sets. In addition, the decor at the Bistro has changed for the better. A new paint job has replaced the bordello-red walls with beige giving the space a more open, sophisticated feel. And the paintings on the walls have been replaced with wonderful photographs of famed jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Sarah Vaughan.
"It's great," comments Bradford. "I can look around the room and see these great photos of people I think of as old friends, thanks to their music, which I've heard so many times. That music has been there for me during hard times and good times, and the photos of these legendary musicians really do add a certain presence to the room."
To get a complete schedule of the 1999-2000 Jazz at the Bistro season, check out the JAB Web site (www.jazzatthebistro.com) or call 531-1012. Better yet, head down to catch the great McCoy Tyner, bass player Avery Sharpe and drummer Aaron Scott this Wednesday-Saturday, Sept. 15-18, hear some great jazz and pick up a complete schedule.